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In 1933 the 2nd World War hadn’t started, but two births, one in East London and the other in South London were to create a war by themselves.
In October 1933 in Hoxton, East London Violet Annie Lee gave birth to twins. Their father Charles David Kray was a dealer in scrap gold. The wins were identical and born within five minutes of each other, their parents named them Reggie and Ronnie.
Over in South London in 1934 Eileen Elizabeth Mary Allen and her husband Charles Frederick Richardson a prize fighter had a son who they called Charles William and then gave him a brother in 1935 who they named Edward.
And so the seeds were planted for the most vicious and lasting gang war London had ever known. The Krays versus the Richardsons.
The Kray twins attended Wood Close School in Brick Lane and then Daniel Street School and in 1938 moved from Stean Street in Hoxton to 178 Vallance Road in Bethnall Green
The Richardson family lived in Wren Road in Camberwell, South London moving to a flat in Wyndham Road and then to Champion Hill close to the home that Freddie Mills the boxer and night club owner was to live in at the time of his suspicious death in 1965.
With the outbreak of WW2 the Krays father was called up but refused and went into hiding leaving the twins in the care of their grandfather Jimmy ‘ Cannonball’ Lee a boxer who pushed them into amateur boxing which was a very popular pastime for working class boys and both had a some success. They are said to have won every fight before they turned professional at the age of 19.
The Richardsons who had two other brothers took to a life of minor crime at an early age when their father deserted the family and they had to live off the meagre earnings of their grandmother’s shop in Camberwell. The brothers also took to boxing and joined the Fitzroy Club in the Walworth road and would socialise in various clubs including the Locarno in Streatham, the Orange Club in Walworth Road and the Shirley Anne in New Cross. The last two being owned by them amongst other clubs as their empire grew.
The Krays notorious violence was plain to see in 1952 when they were conscripted for National service and called up to serve in the Royal Fusiliers. They reported and then tried to leave after a few minutes of exchanging foul language with the recruiting officers. A Corporal who tried to stop them was left seriously injured and the twins walked back to the East end. The next morning they were arrested and even assaulted one of the Constables arresting them. They were turned over to the army on an ‘absent without leave ‘ charge and were imprisoned in the Tower of London, being two of the last prisoners ever held there. They were transferred to Shepton Mallet military prison for a time to await their court marshal. At court they were convicted and sent to the Home Counties Brigade jail in Canterbury, Kent. In the jail they behaved badly and tried to dominate the exercise areas outside their cells, they threw tantrums, caused fights, through their slop buckets over Officers, scaled another with hot tea, set their bedding on fire and handcuffed a guard to their cell bars. In an effort to control them they were put into a communal cell where they assaulted a guard with a china vase and actually escaped. On being recaptured they werelisted to be transferred to a civilian prison for the crimes committed whilst at large and such was their notoriety they were feted on their last night in the Army jail by their National Servicemen guards who gave them a party with cider, cigarettes and crisps. Had those young impressionable servicemen know what the Krays were going on to do in their lives they maybe wouldn’t have treated them so well.
The Richardsons meanwhile were firmly establishing their hold on being the number on gang south of the river. They had assembled members of their gang from some of the nastiest villains around and after Eddie came out from his first stretch in prison they bought a scrap yard in Erin Square Camberwell. Scrap Yards were the natural choice of office premises for villains as a lot could go on behind the high walls or, and in the Richardson’s case, inside the large warehouse. The first foray into real planned crime came when they stared running what was known as ‘long firms’. A fraud that involves setting up a business in a rented property, getting it a good name over a few months by paying for goods upfront to earn the trust of suppliers and banks so that credit is supplied and then stinging the bank with a big credit overdraft taken out as cash and stinging the suppliers by putting in a very large order. The goods would be sold off cheap for cash and by the time investigators came to the rented premises it was empty and the fraudsters long gone.
Only once was Charlie Richardson arrested for receiving stolen goods and the case was dropped due to lack of evidence, but more likely dropped due to the alleged large donation to the Police Fund.
The Richardsons that we mentioned earlier were now in full swing with their string including the Cavern in Lordship Lane, East Dulwich, the Orange Club Walworth Road, and the Shiley Anne in New Cross. These businesses and the scrap yard were a front for their underworld activities of fencing stolen properties, protections and racketeering. The protection racket was very lucrative and easy to operate. Eddie was the one who usually approached a pub landlord and suggested the pub might need ‘protection’ for a weekly fee, in cash of course. If the offer was declined pretty soon after a bunch of the Richardson’s gang or some other ‘doormen’ would have an argument in the pub and a fight would ensue. It seems none of those involved would be hurt but mush of the pub’s fixtures and fitting would be damaged and broken. A follow up call by Eddie the morning after usually solicited the required agreement to protection from the landlord.
Over the Thames in East London the Krays were gaining a hold on everything criminal as their influence and the fear of retribution if you crossed them grew. They operated a ‘franchise’ system. If you were a criminal with a job in mind like a Post Office robbery or a smash and grab at a jewellers you had to get the twin’s permission to go ahead with it. And of course there was a fee to pay whether it was successful or not.
And so business went on with the twins and the Richardsons minding their own manors and keeping out of each others way.
But as usual, the whole thing was exploded not by the principals but by the underlings and a turf war erupted that was to put both parties inside and out of business in the end.
In March 1966 Richard Hart a member of the Kray gang was shot dead during a brawl at Mr Smith’s Club in Rushey Green, Catford. The club was owned by Manchester based entertainment entrepreneur Douglas Flood, an alleged member of the Manchester gang known as the Quality Street Gang, and twenty stone ex wrestler turned criminal Bill Benny. The name Quality Street gang was linked to the picture of well dressed dandies on the Quality Street confectionery tins. The gang members were the opposite, mainly overweight and shabby. They were tied in with the Inter City Jibbers gang who’s members were from inside the Manchester Football Club Supporters hooligan element.
The club was under the ‘protection’ of the Richardsons in exchange for some gaming machines being placed inside. Unfortunately another group of Kray associated businessmen Billy and Harry Hayward, Billy Gardner, Peter Hennessey and a cousin of the Krays Richard Hart thought they had been offered the protection contract on the club. It came to a head after both groups had been in the club drinking and Eddie Richardson told the Kray men to ‘drink up and leave’ Peter Hennessey responded by calling Richardson a ‘half baked ponce’ and told him he could ‘ take him out anytime.’ The two exchanged blows and the others joind in a free for all fist fight. Then a shot rang out and Hart was killed. He waa shot near the bottom of the stairs which led down to the club exit and had been making his getaway. Gangster ‘Mad’ Frankie Fraser a well known enforcer for the Richardsons was held responsible but always denied it. Fraser, Eddie Richardson and several others ended up in Lewisham Hospital and denied any knowledge of the incident ‘shooting? What shooting? It was just a fist fight’ was the common mantra they all sang when questioned by the police about Hart’s death. Although most of the Kray gang were arrested Hennessey, Gardner and others were given a safe house by Deptford gangster Freddie Foreman who ran a firm in the Greenwich area and had been allegedly employed by the Krays as a hit man several times. Although Fraser had been declared insane twice before it is thought that he acquired the ‘Mad Frankie Fraser’ title from this incident having been seen by Henry Botton kicking the lifeless body of Richard Hart in the head who shouted ‘ You’re mad frank, you’re **** mad.’
The fallout continued the next day with Jimmy Andrews a member of the Richardson gang injured in an affray and hurt seriously enough to be admitted to Whitechapel hospital the day after. His friend George Cornell another Richardson associate visited him and that evening walked down Whitechapel Road the worse for wear through drink or drugs and was shouting obscenities about Ronnie Kray. At about eight thirty that evening he staggered into the Blind Beggar public house with Albie Woods and Johnny Dale still shouting the insults about the Krays. This was quite stupid as he was in the middle of the Krays turf and word soon got back to them what was going on. Ronnie Kray arrived at the pub with two of his firm, his right hand man Ian Barrie and his driver John ‘Scotch Jack’ Dickson who was told to wait in the car. They were greeted by Cornell shouting ‘ well look what the dog’s brought in’. Barrie shot two bullets into the ceiling and Ronnie Kray shot Cornell at close range through the head and quickly left.
When outside Ronnie Kray shouted at his driver ‘Scotch Jack’ ‘I shot him, I actually shot him’ They drove back to the Lion pub in Tapp street a few streets away where brother Reggie was drinking with some other members of the gang. As soon as he was told what had happened Reggie told everybody to ‘ drive off the manor’. Several cars drove off with the gang members inside taking various routes to a favourite meeting place the Chequer’s public house in High Street Walthamstow. Ronnie’s clothes were incinerated and the 9mm Mauser pistol was taken by cat burglar Charlie Clark to be disposed of. He didn’t do a very good job, probably afraid of being picked up with it himself and lobbed into the mud of the River Lee where several years later it was found and now resides in Scotland Yard’s Black Museum George Cornell had been left bleeding on the floor at the Blind beggar whose manageress Patsy quill called an ambulance who took him to the London Hospital who had him transferred to Maida Vale Hospital which specialised in brain injuries but he died before they could operate. The Krays heard the news on the radio and cheered with Ronnie saying ‘ dead men can’t talk’.
Detective Superintendent Leonard ‘nipper’ Read led the hunt for the killer but all the witnesses clammed up. The two friends that Cornell was with , Albie Woods and Johnny Dale, had slipped out of the back of the pub after wiping all the glasses on the counter to get rid of any fingerprints, Patsy Quill the manageress said she hadn’t seen who did it and one old chap who was drinking in the bar and had seen it refused to comment. When asked why he wouldn’t help put a criminal like Ronnie Kray behind bars he said ‘ I hate the sight of blood, especially my own.’
Everybody knew that Ronnie Kray had pulled the trigger but no one would speak of it, except George Cornell’s wife Olive who went round to the Kray’s house at 178 Vallence Road shouting obscenities and threw a brick threw the window.
Ronnie’s pride at getting away with murder led him to mercilessly rib Reggie that he ought to kill somebody too.
Reggie’s chance to prove himself a killer came when Jack ‘the hat’ McVitie a career criminal who flitted between the Richardson’s and the Kray’s as an enforcer was paid by the Krays to kill Leslie Payne their former accountant who had skimmed off some money from their accounts. Despite being paid in advance to do the job McVitie left Payne alone and even boasted about how he had cheated the twins out of their money. So loud and frequent was his boasts that the twins decided he had to be silenced. Mc Vitie was lured to a supposed party at Blond Carol’s house at 79 Evering Road, Stoke Newington by the Lambianou brothers and others and where Reggie Kray was waiting. Kray put a pistol to McVities head and pulled the trigger, he pulled it twice but the gun didn’t fire so Reggie stabbed him in the face, stomach and neck killing him. Reggie was quickly driven away and left the Lambianous to get rid of the body. It was rolled in the carpet and put in the boot of McVities own car, driven through the Blackwall Tunnel and dumped over a churchyard wall. When Ronnie Kray was told where it was by a phone call from the Lambianous he was not happy. They had dumped it right in the middle of Freddie Forman’s manor. Forman was a friend of the Karys and if the body had been found where they had left it the poilice would immediately suppose Foreman had something to do with it and arrest him. Ronnie Kray rang Foreman and told him what had happened and Foreman and some of his gang retrieved it and, rumour has it, took it to a pig farm in Essex which Foreman had used before to dispose of bodies. Foreman has never let on if this is true or where the body was taken to.
It was a further two years of evidence gathering before the Krays were arrested for the two murders. A principal amount of evidence came from the former accountant Leslie Payne who realised that if the twins first attempt to get him silenced had failed they would no doubt have another go. So he turned queens evidence. The code of silence, perpetuated by fear, was slowly being broken down.
On may 8th 1968 a team of 100 officers taken from out of London forces was assembled at Nipper Reads HQ in Tintagel House, Vauxhall and briefed. Read had moved his operation HQ out of Scotland Yard because of the amount of Kray informers in the force there. At dawn on may 9th his team arrested the Twins and twenty four of the Firm. The Twins were arrested at their mothers council flat at Brathwaite House, Finsbury, the old house in Vallence Road had been demolished as part of the East end slum clearences a few years earlier. On July 6th they appeared at Old street Magistrates Court and the Metropolitan Chief Magistrate, Mr Frank Milton heard the evidence from a barmaid at the Blind Beggar, known as Mrs X, who, now under police protection, pointed out Ronnie Kray and Ian Barrie as the two men who walked into the pub that evening and Ronnie as the one who fired the shot. The Magistrate referred the case for trial at the Old Bailey.
The trial took place in January 1969 and was the longest and most expensive case in British criminal history lasting several weeks. On March 8th 1969 after six hours and 55 minutes of deliberation the jury returned a unanimous verdict that Ronnie and Reggie Kray were guilty of the murders of Cornell and McVitie.
Taken down to the cells below the dock to await their sentencing with the others of the gang Freddie Foreman recalls how they thought they would get twelve to fifteen years and be out in 6. They both got thirty years with no parole.
Ronnie was a category A prisoner and kept in solitary without privileges. Reggie was a category B in Maidstone for 8 years and later reduced to category C and transferred to Wayland prison in Norfolk .
Ronnie was certified insane in 1979 and spent the remainder of his life in Broadmoor Hospital Prison in Crowthorne, Berkshire. He died aged 61 in March 1995 at Wrexham Park Hospital in Slough having suffered a heart attack.
Reggie became a born-again Christian whilst inside and after serving more than the recommended 30 years he was released from Wayland Prison in August 2000.He was 67 and released on compassionate grounds having been diagnose with inoperable bladder cancer and spent the final weeks of his life with his wife Roberta whom he had married in 1997. On 1st October 2000 Reggie died in his sleep and ten days later was laid to rest beside his brother Ronnie in Chingford Mount Cemetery.
Their older brother Charlie died in prison in April 2000 aged 73 whilst serving a sentence for cocaine smuggling.
Of their personal lives we know Ronnie was openly bisexual which he admits to in his book ‘My Story’. He also planned to marry a lady named Monica who he called ‘ the most beautiful woman he had ever seen’ but he was arrested before he could marry her and although she later married one of his ex boyfriends he sent 59 letters to her between June and December 1968 expressing his love for her. These letters were auctioned off in 2010.
He obviously got over his love for Monica as he subsequently married twice, first to Elaine Mildener in 1985 at Broadmoor Chapel before they divorced in 1989 and then to Kate Howard in 1990 who he divorced in 1994.
Reggie married Frances Shea in 1965 but lasted but 8 months when she upped and left. The marriage was never legally ended. She then died the same year from an overdose of sleeping pills which the inquest labelled as suicide. In 2002 Bradley Allardyce who spent 3 years in Maidstone prison with Reggie Kray after being convicted of armed robbery, came forward and alleged that Reggie had told him that Ronnie had forced the pills down Frances Shea’s throat.
Even from inside prison the twins continued to run their business empire. In 1985 the staff at Broadmoor Hospital Prison found a business card of Ronnie’s that, when investigated, revealed that the twins, now in separate prisons, together with their older brother Charlie and an outside associate were operating a very lucrative bodyguard and protection business named Kayleigh Enterprises for celebrities including Frank Sinatra who hired 18 bodyguards from them in 1985. Documents released under the Freedom of Information laws show that although the authorities were concerned about this business it was run legally and they could find no legal basis to close it down.
Over the river the downfall of the Richardsons was in progress. Their violence was well known within the criminal fraternity and anybody crossing them, not paying their dues or being dissloyal was put before a kangaroo court at the scrap yard with the brothers being judge and jury, The verdict was always ‘guilty’ and the accused would be severely beaten to the extent of bone breakages and even hands nailed to the floor by a nail gun and a toe chopped off. During the time Mad Frankie Fraser worked for them he apparently enjoyed pulling out the victims teeth with a pair of gold plated pliers and acquired the nickname The Dentist.
In July 1965 one of the victims reported his beating to the police and a case was starting to build when a stroke of luck happened. One of the gang named Johnny Bradbury turned Queens Evidence. Bradbury was convicted of killing a businessman named Waldeck who had crossed the Richardsons in South Africa where they had mining interests and where Bradbury had murdered him on the orders of the brothers. When sentenced to hang, Bradbury offered to inform on the Richardsons and list all their criminal enterprises and money laundering channels in exchange for a pardon and immunity. This was arranged by Inspector Gerald MacArthur who led the special CID team targeting the Richardsons. When this amnesty became known several other victims of the brothers came forward and were granted immunity from prosecution in other crimes if they turned Queen’s evidence, which they did. The Home Office arranged new identities and passports for them and after the Richardson’s trial most fled the country to South Africa, Spain and Mallorca and did not return ever or only after a considerable time.
The so called ‘Torture Trial’ took place at the Old Bailey in April 1967. The Richardson’s defence was overwhelmed by the evidence from their gang members who had turned Queen’s Evidence. They were found guilty of fraud, extortion, assault and Grevious Bodily harm. Charlie was sentenced to 25 years and Eddie, who was already doing 5 years for affray had a further ten years added.
In 1980 after the failure of many failed legal attempts to obtain release or parole Charlie Richardson escaped from open prison and managed to stay ‘on the trot’ as it was called for almost a year. He used various publicity stunts to try and overturn the verdict but was finally re-arrested in Earls Court with five others on suspicion of drug dealing having been seen coming out of a Sex shop which was known to be controlled by the Richardson family. His identity only came to light after the arrest. In 1983 Charlie was allowed to go on day release to help the handicapped and was allowed weekends with his family. He was finally released in July 1984.
Brother Eddie who had served his 15 year sentence and was released in the early 1980s was back in court in 1990 and sentenced to 35 years for involvement in a £70 million cocaine and cannabis heist. He was released after 12 years.
The brothers fell out after a major row when Eddie accused Charlie of fraudulent business deals behind his back when he was in prison.
Charlie, who was a heavy smoker, died aged 78 of peritonitis in September 2012.
Eddie soldiers on hiring himself out at £300 a time plus lunch to tell stories about their past and has always denied the lurid tales that they tortured their enemies and says that ‘if you can find anyone who says they got nailed to the floor by us or had their toes cut off I will give £10,000 for each one.’ I’m not sure whether that’s £10,000 for each person or each toe. Although when publicising his autobiography in 2005 he was asked whether he got pleasure from inflicting pain and replied ‘If I’m perfectly honest, yes I did.’
The Krays became media celebrities seen in the best clubs with the likes of George Raft, Frank Sinatra, Barbara Windsor and their refused parole was questioned by MPs like Tory Peer Lord Boothby and others. The two tribes never actually met, leaving all the nasty business to their underlings. For years they had ‘supporters’ of which there were many, who said that the only people who suffered during the Krays’ and Richardsons’ all powerful control of the London crime scene were other villains and underworld types. Many said the streets were safer for the ordinary person back then as the violence was all kept ‘in house’. Was it? The violent attacks on Banks, Jewellers and Post Offices. The clubbing of security guards delivering money to shops. In the end all criminality has one end, the acquiring of money, and that money wasn’t originally destined for the pockets of the Krays or the Richardsons.
And so there we have it. Only Eddie remains alive today from the two most violent and notorious London gang families of the 60s to 80s. They hated each other and murdered each other’s members. How many were murdered and disappeared in a tub of acid or a deep lake we will never know. Most of those that do know have now passed on as well.